- Associated Press - Thursday, September 2, 2010

TOKYO (AP) - The star of an Oscar-winning documentary about a Japanese town that slaughters dolphins delivered a petition to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on Thursday demanding an end to the hunt.

“The Cove” star Ric O’Barry handed the petition, signed by 1.7 million people from 155 nations, to an official at the embassy’s gate.

O’Barry, 70, the former dolphin trainer for the 1960s “Flipper” TV show, was flanked by police and followed by dozens of supporters with flags and a banner saying, “Let’s save Japanese dolphins.”

He had hoped to deliver the petition to the Japanese fisheries agency but canceled the plan after an ultra-nationalist group known for violence threatened him. Nationalist groups say criticism of dolphin hunting is a denigration of the country’s culture.

The Japanese government allows a hunt of about 20,000 dolphins a year, and argues that killing them _ and also whales _ is no different from raising cows or pigs for slaughter. Most Japanese have never eaten dolphin meat and, even in Taiji, it is not consumed regularly.

“The Cove,” which won this year’s Academy Award for best documentary, depicts a handful of fishermen from the town of Taiji who scare dolphins into a cove and kill them slowly, piercing them repeatedly until the waters turn red with blood. Other Japanese towns that hunt dolphins kill them at sea.

Taiji, which has a population of 3,500 people, defends the dolphin killing as tradition and a livelihood. The annual hunt started Wednesday, although boats returned empty. Most of the dolphins are eaten as meat after a handful of the best looking are sold off to aquariums.

“I’m not losing hope. Our voice is being heard in Taiji,” said O’Barry, who has campaigned for four decades to save dolphins not only from slaughter but also from captivity.

The film’s Japanese debut became a free-speech fight. It opened in some theaters in June after earlier screenings were canceled when cinemas received a flood of angry phone calls and threats by far-right nationalists.

But the latest threat, coming from a group with a history of violence, is more ominous. O’Barry said he canceled a trip to Taiji, where he had hoped to hold a protest and speak with the mayor.

Louie Psihoyos, the director of “The Cove,” said he doesn’t agree with blindly sticking with tradition.

“In America we had a much longer tradition of slavery, but that was banned,” Psihoyos told The Associated Press. “My message to Japan is to see the movie for yourself with an open mind.”